Things I’d Wish I’d Known My First Year

This one gets a little personal, as I travel and get to hang out with more and more teachers at events during this convention season. I realize what they’re going through now is what I went through many years ago. With such hard working conditions, it’s hard to keep your head afloat in a new place, with a new job, juggling 50 things at the same time. Burnout is tough. As I talk to others who are currently in the field and from what I remember from when I had my first classroom. There are things I wish I had known that could have made my first year of teaching so much smoother.

  1. As soon as you can get into your room in the summer, get in there and start setting up. I didn’t do this my first year and very much regretted it. Get as much time as you can in your new space to look over what the previous teacher left for you and figure out how you want to use it. Take inventory and figure out what you need to make it a great year.
  2. Ask questions about resources and budget when you get offered a position. Figure out what technology you have, if you have a curriculum, and what it takes to get the resources you know will make you successful. It doesn’t hurt to ask about getting a little bit of a bigger budget for the first year to make sure your room is stocked with what you need.
  3. All your resources don’t necessarily need to come from your specific budget. Especially when it comes to instructional materials. Curriculum should be coming out of a separate budget whether it be a school fund or a district fund. If those funds have run dry, ask colleagues and administrators about possible grants and what that process looks like in your district to write and hopefully receive one.
  4. Spend the first couple of weeks teaching your students what expectations and procedures look like in the room, and get to know your students in the process. During the first few weeks of school students are settling in, it can be overwhelming for them so don’t try to jump right into your lessons too hard. If you set them up for success in the first few weeks, the rest of the year is just making sure you follow through with enforcing those expectations and having fun teaching your students.
  5. Don’t expect every lesson to go the way you planned, there were many times I threw a lesson completely out the window because I knew it just wasn’t happening and we would turn to a few review games or something alike. Things happen, and staying on a strict schedule is never going to happen.
  6. Grade-level shows do not need to be over the top. Pull some amazing songs together, get those students on stage, and get them moving and singing. Elaborate costumes, props, sets, and scripts can come later. Keep it simple for your first time! My students did have fun with the shows my first year or two, but when we just focused on performing music together, it made such a bigger impact on the audience.
  7. A good admin will be flexible coming to do formal observations. It is ok, to be honest with them and ask for a different time, especially when your 5th graders just did an amazing show the night before and you hadn’t planned anything too strict for the next day. Pop-in observations were a whole different animal (which I ended up loving, I would ask them to come in during my toughest classes and learned a lot about class management during those times.)
  8. Don’t spend all your weekend lesson planning and creating resources. It will create a cycle that will go on for years and lead to burnout quicker. Be ok with not getting everything done, and look for resources from colleagues. We are in a time where you don’t need to recreate the wheel.
  9. When one student asks to use the bathroom, they will all ask to bathroom. This herd mentality happens with sharing stories, asking questions, going somewhere outside of class, etc. Set limits and learn when it is actually an emergency, and when it is not. Sometimes with sharing and questions, I would set a limit of just a few hands before we moved to the next thing but would let students who didn’t get a chance know when the next opportunity would be.
  10. Ask for help, it’s your first year and there is no expectation that you are gonna be perfect. I wished I had asked more of my colleagues in the school for help. There was so much experience and knowledge in those buildings I wish I could have unlocked more, I could have learned so much more.

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